Zee vs Jindal – is it really extortion ?
I just read a news article in DNA about the Zee News executives in judicial custody.
Here is a short post about why this disturbs me.
Quick Facts :
- Zee News executives allegedly offered to cut back on Coalgate coverage if Jindal would pay 100 Cr in the form of advertising revenue.
- Jindal representatives pretended to bargain while secretly taping these meetings.
- They took all the tapes to the police.
There are two aspects to this. First as something that must be addressed by the media fraternity in their own self interest. Second as a legal matter which calls for punishment or cancellation of license. The legal case particularly about the extortion charge isnt clear to me at all.
It is crucial to distinguish between extortion and blackmail. There is a vast volume of literature on this topic, but here is a really good article on the matter by US Federal Judge Richard Posner (PDF).
- Extortion : Demand money – otherwise I commit an illegal action like hit you over the head, criminally intimidate you, defame you, and so forth.
- Blackmail : Demand money – otherwise I exercise my right to free speech. In effect, this is an offer to waive my right to free speech in a particular instance in exchange for money.
Everyone seems to agree Zee News were not forcing Jindal in any way. At any time, Jindal could have simply walked away. Their fear that subsequent to the failure of the deal, Zee News would commence broadcasting lies is unfounded because there is enough protection in existing laws against criminal defamation. Prima facie this isnt extortion at all. This is blackmail – an offer by Zee News to cut back on its right to free speech and arguably professional duty. Extortion also has a dimension of power, a goonda is able to extort from a push cart vendor because when the latter toys with the idea of resistance, he factors in his costs.
The media better sort this one out amongst themselves.